By the time of the release of “Prometheus” had arrived, my anticipation for it was at an all time high. I consider myself a fan of director Ridley Scott and the thought of him returning to the world of the film that made him a star, had me giddy. However was he really going back? The intriguing nature of whether or not “Prometheus” was actually a prequel to “Alien” also added to my anticipation.
The film is about a couple of scientists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, who three years after discovering the latest in a long series of paintings, all unconnected and all depicting the same star map, find themselves aboard the spaceship “Prometheus” on a privately funded mission, as they attempt to visit the planet nearest to the star constellation depicted in all of the paintings. Dr. Shaw’s belief is that the creators of the human race (which she refers to as “Engineers”) inhabit this planet and finding them will lead to the ultimate discovery of life and creation, how it began and why.
Joining them on the ship are a number of scientists and muscle including Meredith Vickers, who appears to be in charge of the mission, Janek, who is the ship’s captain and is always cool in a crisis, and probably most importantly David, an android who has been looking after both the ship and its crew, while they have been in a deep sleep for the majority of their journey through space. David was initially built by the billionaire Peter Weyland, who although no longer alive was a big believer in this mission and therefore funded the whole thing. Upon landing on the planet the group suit up to investigate immediately, however it soon becomes apparent that this isn’t just going to be a scientific exploration, and that Meredith Vickers appears to have her own agenda for visiting the planet. Amazingly, the crew stumbles onto the exact thing they were looking for in a cavern not far from where they landed, where they find the decapitated body of one of the Engineers, as well as a sealed part of the cavern filled with ominous looking canisters that seem to be excreting a black goo of sorts. Probably an even bigger find in this section is the mammoth sculpture of a very human looking head, which seems to confirm Dr. Shaw’s suspicions that humanity’s creation began here. Sadly though it appears that all of the Engineers are now extinct, meaning that all of the questions Dr. Shaw came with will likely remain unanswered. Once they discover the head of the decapitated alien being, they decide to bring it back on board the ship to examine it, but by doing this they start a sequence of events that ultimately could lead to the jeopardy of the entire human race back on Earth.
“Prometheus” is such a beautiful and yet frustrating experience to watch. When it is on, it is so very good, but there are elements within it that are so clunky that just bring it down. The biggest problem with the film is the script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. It has characters doing and saying the most ridiculous things, but probably its biggest crime is that it forgoes any sort of character development whatsoever to the point that we rarely care about the entire crew of the Prometheus. For a film which exhibits such extreme quality in parts, I was stunned to find such a poor script within. It almost feels like a “Space Travel For Dummies” kind a thing, it feels so dumbed down. “Prometheus” deals with a lot of heady ideas and themes such as how humanity began, creation, faith, death and rebirth, but they are all handled so clumsily. For example, Dr. Shaw is seen wearing a cross throughout the film, a symbol of faith, yet she believes that humanity was created by these Engineers rather than God, making her attachment to the cross seem insincere yet the way it is presented we are meant to believe in her faith as a driving force in her life. It just seems confused to me (or maybe it is just me that is confused).
What “Prometheus” does have is three really strong lead performances. Noomi Rapace plays Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, and something that I have always liked about Rapace is that she really gets into her characters, you can see that she lets them infect her life, she lives the role which is what makes her always come across as so real. Rapace is so associated with her role of Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish versions of the “Millennium” trilogy that you would almost think she would never be able to get out of that shadow, but such is her talent, not once did I think of Lisbeth when watching “Prometheus”, she was Dr. Shaw and only Dr. Shaw. Rapace brings an intensity to this role, that is really much needed because if it wasn’t there than much of the second half of the film would have fallen flat. When the fit hits the shan, you can see that Rapace is feeling every second of it. Michael Fassbender once again proves that he is capable of playing anything, and his performance as the creepy android David is the film’s best. He is astonishing here as he alternates between being a very friendly persona to being so creepy that you could see him bringing down the entire human race just so he could see what would happen. David is a character that sees everything that is going on (and even initiates certain sequences of events), he is always looking and watching, very inquisitive, but is it just knowledge he is after or is he going to use this knowledge in a negative context. Another thing I loved about David was the fact that he styled himself on Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence Of Arabia”, it seems an amusing thing for an android to do. The third great performance, albeit with not as much to do as the previously mentioned, is Idris Elba as the captain of the ship. He really brings a weight to the role, and an incredible amount of charisma making him standout from the rest of the crew, which the script gives little to do. He is always entertaining when on screen. The performances from both Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce are a bone of contention with me. Actually Theron’s performance is fine for what it is, but her character ultimately has no point in the whole story that her role should have been written out well before production on the film began, where as Guy Pearce under a ton of aging make-up was a massive mistake. Pearce is an actor I normally love, but playing the role of the very old Peter Weyland, just did not work. He actually looked like a young guy made up to play an old guy, never once did he come across as believable.
Ridley Scott is known as a visual stylist and in that regard “Prometheus” delivers in spades. The opening “seeding of the earth” segment is just beautiful and once we hit space, the film continues to deliver gorgeous images. I love that he went back to the look of the original H.R Giger designs of “Alien” as it benefits the film greatly and gives a feeling of continuity. The only thing that I was disappointed in visually speaking was the design of the Engineers themselves. I understand that they had to look somewhat human but I didn’t think there was enough creativity shown in their design. Another thing I loved about “Prometheus” was that when it was called for, Scott did not hold back on the blood and gore. There are parts of the film that are very gory and I loved that, at least from what my eyes could tell, they appeared to use practical special effects rather than CGI whenever they could. Granted some effects couldn’t be done without CGI but it looks like if they could be done practically they were, which makes them feel a part of the environment.
The consistent thing about the trailers for “Prometheus” was an incredible intensity held throughout. Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” had the same intensity and I was really hoping for more of the same here, but sadly this is where the film falls short. Trust me, there are a number of very intense sequences in the film (the film’s best scene which involves a bit of self surgery is the most intense I’ve felt in a cinema for a long time), but unfortunately the intensity is not sustained throughout the entire film, and it seems to come in peaks and troughs (which is very much like the film itself).
Overall, while I did like “Prometheus” greatly, it was frustrating because it could have been so much better. The script constantly has characters doing ridiculous things (do not get me started on the character who literally leaves an “antagonist” in a room without telling anyone else about it), and has entire characters that turn out to be pointless. That said it does make you think in parts. One moment I was fascinated by was when David asked Charlie why humans made him, and Charlie’s reply is “Cause we could”, to which David responds with “How would that make you feel if you get the same answer from your creators?”. I found that very interesting. The finale seems to be setting up for another sequel, where hopefully more questions are answered (and I do not mind the fact that the film leaves so many questions unanswered), but I guess you have to ask yourself whether or not “Prometheus” is actually a prequel to “Alien”. I am not going to answer that question, so if you want to find out the answer to it you will have to check out Ridley Scott’s latest yourself, which in my opinion it is definitely worth it, even if it ultimately turns out to be a frustrating experience.